Broome berth offer for US Navy co-operation

Daniel EmersonThe West Australian

The tourist town of Broome could become a northern Australian hub for the US Navy amid increasing tensions with China after the State Government invited it to berth warships at the soon-to-be dredged port.

WA Defence Issues Minister Paul Papalia told The Weekend West he “rolled out the welcome mat” during discussions with high-level US officials on the sidelines of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue in Honolulu last week.

The State Government this month announced $7 million in dredging works would remove obstacles in Broome Port’s approach channel to improve access by bigger vessels and secure more cruise ship visits.

Mr Papalia said he told foreign policy, operations and logistics chiefs from the US Pacific Command of the development.

“We’ve talked to the very highest people in the directorate of operations that schedule ship visits and they are now aware that we are very welcoming, the welcome mat is out and we have a range of capabilities,” he said.

Mr Papalia said destroyers or cruisers could bring up to 500 crew to spend money in Broome.

Broome was much closer to the Middle East than US ports such as Hawaii and San Diego, and would represent a significant fuel saving over Perth.

Mr Papalia said the State did not believe hosting US warships would make Broome a target or antagonise regional rival China.

Former foreign affairs and defence minister Stephen Smith, a director of the Perth US Asia think tank, said Mr Papalia’s offer was positive for the co-operation agreed with the US in 2011.

“While one would naturally expect Garden Island and Darwin to be the predominant ports for that purpose, an expanded Broome port does potentially provide some additional North West options, not just for US practical co-operation but also for other navies, in particular Indonesia.”

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